ON THE CONDITION OF WOMEN PRISONERS IN THE JAILS OF JHARKHAND
Sheela Ramanathan, Advocate and member, Committee Against Violence On Women, Bangalore, Vansessa Dougnac, Journalist, France/Delhi, Banojyotsna, Research Scholar, JNU, Delhi, Vasantha, Committee Against Violence On Women (CAVOW), Delhi, Sumati, Student, JNU, Delhi, Manisha Rani, Advocate, Ranchi, Dr. Rose Kharekatta, Professor, Ranchi.
Women in our society are in a vulnerable and disadvantaged position because of their social status & economic condition. Once they are in prison they are completely abandoned.
Between the 18th – 20th January 2008 the team visited Chaibasa Jail, the Ranchi Central Jail and the Hazaribagh jail. Despite prior notification to the higher authorities about the visit, we were not allowed to enter the jail in Chaibasa and could only visit the inmates in the office of the Superintendent, in her presence. That directly hindered the prisoners to have an open talk with us about their problems and difficulties. Obtaining permission for the entry in Ranchi and Hazaribagh jail were also not very smooth.
We however observed certain disturbing details in the conditions of the prisons in which the inmates, especially the women prisoners are incarcerated.
· Firstly, both Chaibasa and Hazaribag jails are extremely crowded. It is housing almost three times more than its capacity to hold prisoners. Although we were not allowed to go inside, the Superintendent herself confessed the infrastructural lacuna which makes life extremely difficult for the prisoners inside it.
· One reality with which the women prisoners have to live is an obvious disassociation from her family once she is imprisoned, even if they are under trial especially when the women are removed from their native district to the central jail, the family members refrain from meeting them any more, mostly due to the distance, financial constraints to travel and also because of the social stigma that is associated with prisoners.
·Children are allowed to stay with their mothers till the age of six. After that they are removed from the jail and the children above six years are not allowed to stay with the mothers. Both the mother and child in most cases are separated completely without meeting each other ever. Almost all the women we met, who had children over the age of six, are completely clueless about the whereabouts of their children. In some cases we met mothers who had children below six years yet they had no idea about the provisions to keep along with them in the jail.
·There is complete failure of legal aid from the government. Most cases where the accused can not afford to have a lawyer of her own (and most people can not), is left alone without any proper legal aid from the government. The accused have no idea of their lawyers, have rarely met them and hardly receive any concrete help from them. Many people we met have been granted bail, but can not proceed further due to lack of proper legal aid. Moreover, many women are remaining under-trial for unbelievably long period even for petty crimes, due to the lack of legal aid. The legal aid and system that exists within high court, as we gathered, is also in terrible state. The advocates rarely visit jail and therefore the accused can hardly meet their lawyer before they are produced in the court.
·We are told that the production of inmates before the magistrate has been dispensed with due to the provision of video conference. This takes away the rights granted to the prisoners to complain to the magistrate if there is any violence committed against them when in confinement. Also they loose an opportunity to meet their family/children or advocate. Rather she is forced to do it in the intimidating supervision of the jailors and the police in the jail itself in a secluded manner. Our team would like to appeal to the local advocates to consider this subject with utter seriousness and if possible file a PIL against video conference.
·The Ranchi jail was comparatively cleaner and better kept. Although we were not allowed to go inside the Chaibasa Jail, we have serious doubts about the hygienic conditions within it. We however did not witness ourselves any trace of the 'vocational training' that superintendents of both the Ranchi and Chaibasa jails claimed to provide to the inmates. In Hazaribag jail however, there is no provision at all for the women to work and earn during their period of confinement. The door of the toilets in Ranchi jail was shockingly half exposed while there were no doors at all in the toilets of Hazaribag which reflects the insensitivity of the jailors about the privacy of the women inmates.
·In Hazaribag jail, we got to talk to the inmates more freely. They could also express more grievances to us. The condition within this jail is perhaps the reality in all the other jails as well. No regular classes for the inmates are carried out. Most of the inmates within are illiterates. Although the jail authority claimed the presence of a library for the inmates, they however informed that books are not made available to them despite repeated demands. There was also no provision for recreation, outdoor, indoor games at all for the inmates. The visit of the doctor is also shockingly irregular. The jail also does not provide the prisoners with sanitary napkins. Moreover the doctor of the female ward is clueless about that! There is a serious problem of safe water within this prison.
This exposes the blindfolded functioning of the repressive state machinery and its complete indignation towards rightful political activities. As per the Superintendent of the Chaibasa Jail, the Maoists are no political party as they function on their own ideology! This shows her ignorance towards the concepts of both politics and ideology! However, we felt in that case the Maoists should be treated as any other 'criminals', but the jailor of the Chaibasa jail refused to allow us meet the ones who are booked under 17 CLA, while we did meet the other inmates, who were booked under other charges. The jail authority of Ranchi denied the presence of any one booked for being a Maoist in the Jail.
In Ranchi jail however there is special wards for some prisoners called upper male wards and upper female wards. These wards from outside looked extremely well kept like mini-bungalows. According to the jailor of Ranchi, only 'economically well-off and people with high social status' can avail those wards. This discrimination and the mindset were shocking too.
Prisons are nowadays said to be a place for so called reforms – but even to do this 'reform' the jail custodians should have the proper perspective and sensitivity themselves. In these jails however, there is no scope for even the so-called reform to take place. We intend to write an extensive report of our visit soon and intensify our campaign against the pathetic conditions in which the women inmates are forced to stay and the harassment and problems they face in various jails across India.